At GDC Europe on Wednesday, diverse engine makers -- valiantly refereed by Google's Mark DeLoura -- traded jokes, caused chaos, noting along the way that "we all seem to be converging into the same space."
The line-up -- aside from Google developer advocate DeLoura -- included Mark Rein (Epic Games' Unreal Engine), Joe Kreiner (Terminal Reality's Infernal Engine), Carl Jones (Crytek's CryEngine), Philip Belhassen (StoneTrip's ShivaEngine) and David Helgason (Unity Technologies' Unity Engine).
The havoc started early, with Crytek's Jones saying of CryEngine in the introduction: "It's the most powerful game engine available", followed by general amusement from the panelists and Mark Rein grinning: "It's on now."
Indeed, David Helgason then dropped another bomb by saying that Unity had "...probably the best tools in the business", followed by panel outrage and the swift qualifier "for small and medium developers."
Luckily at this point, things settled down somewhat, as DeLoura then pointed out that he feels like there are multiple tiers of game engine, from less expensive licenses for web-based and iPhone titles all the way up to the complex AAA console engine licenses.
Talking about what markets the engine creators are moving into, Helgason points out that web is "the biggest platform of all", and Unity is also looking at what's going to happen in the TV space. He added, interestingly: "What's happening is that the platforms are getting less powerful each year", with game-compatible hardware built into TVs having technology like last-generation smartphones.
Terminal Reality's Kreiner noted of the game engine space: "We all seem to be converging into the same space... we're all going to end up on the same platforms." He did also comment of new platforms his developer/engine firm is interested in: "There's a ton of publisher interest in doing 3DS games, so that's a focus for us right now."
So how do you get indies into using your engines? Rein noted that Epic has been shipping the Unreal Development Kit for free in the last year or so. It's now got 300,000 unique installs of the UDK, and this has been helping smaller creators get into working with Unreal Engine 3.
On his part, Crytek's Jones revealed that the company is planning a UDK-like offering for the indie community using CryEngine, commenting: "We are going to do something for free for the mod community... it'll probably be around the launch of Crysis 2." A number of the other engines also have less expensive versions already, of course - probably affordable by independents.
After some amusing additional banter, DeLoura brought up the issues of custom scripting languages, which a couple of the licensees such as Unreal Engine and Infernal Engine not using more common languages such as Lua (which CryEngine and ShivaEngine, among others, utilize).
Kreiner said that he felt their own scripting language - called Dante - ended up having unique enough features that it was worth learning a new language, and Rein noted that their visual scripting tool Kismet -- in his view -- makes it easy to lay out gameplay without even necessarily scripting a great deal manually in Unrealscript.
In conclusion, the jovial panel of competitors showed that convergence does indeed appear to be happening to some extent in the game engine space -- with the larger console engines targeting the indie space, and the less expensive engines getting ever more diverse in terms of platforms.